Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Review

reindeer rockettes

Last week I was pretty excited to find out that I was number  one on the list (my friend later informed me this is merely  because the list was in alphabetical order, but whatever, I  want my moment) of students who’d won the raffle for  tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular! I mean, the  Radio City Christmas show is one of the staples of  Christmas in NYC, like checking out the tree in Rockefeller   Center or the display windows at Macy’s. Never mind that it  was still a week before Thanksgiving; apparently NYC firmly believes it’s never too early to get into the Christmas spirit (I’ll have you know that the tree is already up, the window displays out, buskers playing Christmas tunes, wreaths on the buildings and light-up snowflakes dangling above the streets).

Anyways, ever since I can remember I’ve had this vague picture of Radio City and the infamous ‘Rockettes’, who I always sort of envisioned as a classier, holiday version of The Pussycat Dolls. I knew there was dancing, short skirts and eye-high kicks that looked nigh physically impossible. That being said, I think my vision of The Rockettes was skewed as everything I knew about them I learned from Val Clark of A Chorus Line (Dance ten, looks three!).

So when I took my seat in that gigantic theater, I was expecting some showy, glitzy dance numbers, something like Chicago meets The Nutcracker, but instead what I got was this watered-down clockwork concoction, too insipid to hold the attention of any person, child or adult, I know.

I think the number one problem is that while I love dance, I’ve always viewed it as an art form, using movement as a canvas to portray emotion and passion. But the Rockette style of dance, famous for its precision, revolves more around executing repetitive dance moves one after the other rather than actually using it as a medium for any sort of expression.

But despite the fact that over half the choreography consisted of synchronized walking and perfectly-unified tap step tap step’s, there were a few moments of genuinely inspired and impressive dance-movement, especially in one of the initial tap numbers.

Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City

Image via Wikipedia

It was more a combo of the story and the music  that really did the show in. I don’t know if you’ve  witnessed the ‘thrilling’ new second act in which 3-D is incorporated into the story with absolutely no purpose or effect, but I’d  consider myself lucky if I hadn’t. This new installment  involves dressing The Rockettes up like green Christmas bugs to march in formation for twenty minutes and repeatedly pretend to zap 3-D fairies, all in order to help a mother and her daughter re-grasp the spirit of Christmas and meaning of family by playing a good old-fashioned video game together. This is the 2010 version of family bonding.

As hard as Santa tried to convince me that it was Christmas spirit and not boredom overtaking me, he wasn’t quite compelling enough. Even as the mother of the story serenaded the audience, belting passionately something about how, “All I wanted was to find an awesome toy, but then Santa brought us here, and now I have Christmas joy!” Or something like that. You get the idea. The strongest emotions I could conjure up was an intense pity for those poor, poor Rockettes, once mighty symbols of success and poise, prancing around the stage dressed as green Power Rangers, throwing dance-punches at 3-D gingerbread men. I know Val would be just as disappointed as I was.

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Review: Follies

It could use a little more polish, but here’s my review for ‘Follies’ which I got to see this weekend with Bernadette Peters!!! 😀 There’s a lot more I’d like to write about, but it was so long and I’ve already cut the first paragraph, so I thought I’d better stop there. :O

It’s no surprise that a production like ‘Follies‘ isn’t commonly chosen to grace the stages of community theaters. First of all, there are the extravagant sets and costumes, extremely demanding for the average stage company. But more importantly, Follies is no Sound of Music, or even Les Misérables (my favorite show of all time), where experiences and emotions beyond the understanding of a high school actor can still be effectively forged. Follies revolves around memories and feelings of the utmost delicacy and tenderness. The actor can’t ride on the wave of zippy melodies, or leave the tricky compositions behind in favor of exhibiting raw emotion. The show demands a meticulous tight-rope walk between music and sentiment, and a true understanding of the content.

I was lucky enough to see Follies at the Marquis Theater this Friday starring Bernadette Peters, reprising her role as Sally Durant Plummer, a forty-year-old former chorus girl reuniting with her fellow Follies dancers in a last salute to their old theater, which is about to be razed. Following on her heels is her concerned husband Buddy, played by Danny Burstein (who was, as a side note, absolutely fabulous as Billis in the recent South Pacific revival). The couple is quickly joined by Phyllis (Jan Maxwell), Sally’s former roommate, and her husband Ben (Ron Raines). All seems well as the four break into a nostalgic tune (‘The Girls Upstairs’), recalling the frenzy of the stage and the exuberance of young love. The pretense of a light-hearted reunion is quickly stripped away, however, as tensions between both couples and former lovers Sally and Ben become increasingly evident.

The first half is decidedly sleepy; the chorus girls arrive, reminisce, and perform their old favorite showstoppers, one of which includes the musical standard ‘Broadway Baby’, sung with spunk by Jayne Houdyshell as thrice-widowed former showgirl Hattie Walker. They literally co-mingle with the ghosts of their younger selves, who run and skip through memories of a theater in its prime, as well as a more solemn brand of ghosts who slink passively through the shadows, decked out in exorbitant Ziegfeld-attire. While these specters of youth serve mainly to enact flashbacks, and seem less present in the theater and more the visions of a parallel time line, it is the more generic ‘ensemble’ ghosts who create a truly unsettling, paranormal atmosphere. They gaze upon the aging chorus girls with blank expressions, wandering aimlessly along the abandoned catwalks and through the darkened corners, always with the utmost poise and grace, watching the story unfold with troubling detachment.

But despite the big number and the eerie presence of the youthful phantoms, the story and the songs seem to drag. We see Buddy loves Sally, Sally loves Ben, while Ben and Phyllis are lost in confusion regarding their convoluted feelings. The audience watches the drama unfold, but there isn’t much incentive to particularly care about their relationship woes, especially as the other womens’ reflections upon their past selves seem infinitely more interesting.

It’s in the second act, however, that things finally seem to come together. First, Jan Maxwell wows with a powerful, near-perfect rendition of ‘Could I Leave You?‘, revealing an overwhelming strength beneath the hurt and the anger regarding Ben’s neglect. Each of the four reflect bitterly on the foolishness of their younger selves, finally confronting their youthful apparitions. It is here that the colorless reality of the fading theater is suddenly replaced by the fantastical world of ‘Loveland’, decked out with pink feathers and peppy dancers, where the four characters seem to regress as they reach their breaking points.

Follies comes off as a pleasant sleepwalk throughout the show. It touches on heartbreak and lost youth, but the feelings don’t seem to genuinely be there. It is only when the characters, broken, retreat into their minds that the show finally comes alive. Burstein is hilarious and heart-breaking singing ‘The Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues‘, touching on sentiments so personal and most likely familiar that it’s a little disconcerting. Bernadette Peters, true to form, finally takes command of the stage and blows the audience away with ‘Losing My Mind‘, explaining Sally’s all-consuming longing for her idealized vision of Ben. Maxwell leads the ensemble in a glitzy dance number, reflecting on the short-comings of both her present personality and that of her vivacious younger self. Lastly, Ben sings of his belief in living life without consequence; only to end in the realization of his need for Phyllis and an emotional breakdown. This would be my one complaint with the Loveland sequence; every actor plays their part to perfection, except Raines, who can portray Ben’s sly charm but can’t quite deliver the emotional punch necessary to land this final sequence.

Follies is very difficult to review; it feels cheap to even try and comment on material that so obviously surpasses my level of understanding. I haven’t even reached the age of Sally and Phyllis’ ghosts, much less am I capable of comprehending their older incarnation’s wistful recollections of youth, their bitterness over choices made so long ago, and their longing to relive a happier time. I am aware, however, that I’ve witnessed something more profound than the average musical; and whether my opinions on the productions short-comings are valid or merely attributable to my youth, I will let you decide.

Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

So, the plan was for Monday entries to be all about music, photography and video, but since I got out to see ‘How to Succeed’ this weekend, I thought I’d try writing a review! So here, for your reading pleasure:

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying


Like all aspects of pop culture, Broadway shows 
are always coming in and out of style. While just a few years ago edgy, rock-grunge musicals, à la Rent, Spring Awakening and American Idiot, were all the rage, the trend seems to have re-geared in an entirely unexpected direction. The demand for cutting-edge has been replaced with a call for nostalgia. A slew of revivals (and a few originals) set in and between the roaring twenties (Anything Goes) and the corporate world of the sixties (Promises Promises) have taken the Great White Way by storm, filling NYC with the sound of show-stopping tap numbers, upbeat tunes and fabulously cheesy one-liners. The plots and time periods obviously vary, but they all share a delightful light-heartedness and abound with the charms of yesteryear.

The latest of these shows to come along is How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a revival featuring former Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch. The show originally debuted in 1961, and like many of its contemporaries has begun to show some age. When Finch’s love interest Rosemary, played by a time-period-appropriately cheeky Rose Hemingway, sings about her dreams of keeping an emotionally-distant husband’s dinner warm as he climbs the corporate ladder, more than a few pairs of eyebrows are bound to shoot upward.

But nonetheless, the vibrant cast attempts to blow off the dust with infectious zeal. Daniel Radcliffe proves himself a capable leading man with an adequate singing voice, impressive dance moves, and the pairing of a remarkably enthusiastic presence and lovable grin. He is at every moment wide-eyed, bristling with an energy and earnestness that threatens to distract from the character itself. But this sort of vigor and projection of innocence may be exactly what is required in order for the audience to fall in love with the otherwise duplicitous Finch. Impressive too are his comedic chops, as evident whenever he, spotlit, shares with the audience his knowing, impetuous grin to signal that his latest scheme has pulled through.

John Larroquette secures a lot of laughs as Finch’s amiable yet morally dubious boss, whom we know the unstoppable Finch must eventually succeed. While he does project presence, his limited theater experience is evident; too often he dissolves into mumbling or attempts to use subtleties that work for the TV screen but not for the stage. Rose Hemingway is appropriately cute and feisty, bringing strength and sympathy to a character that could easily be scoffed at by the modern American woman. Tammy Blanchard is entertaining as wobbly tart-with-a-heart Hedy La Rue, and Christopher J Hanke manages to make us both love yet not root for Finch’s bumbling nemesis Bud Frump.

Derek Mclane’s set design is very reminiscent of recent productions of Bye Bye Birdie, Promises Promises (both directed and choreographed by Robert Ashford), and the short-lived 9 to 5; a cubic style that suggests a certain type of set instead of actually having the suggested set present. Why these productions find so much appeal in spending equal amounts of money on sets that pretend to be one thing, instead of building the actual thing, is a bit perplexing. Perhaps the style’s popularity derives from its ability to lend a modern edge to otherwise dated scripts.

Catherine Zuber’s chromatic outfits liven up an otherwise metallic backdrop, chock-full of sleek suits and twirly skirts. Ashford’s choreography is impressive and lively, although it’s been pointed out in other reviews that each number tries a little too hard to be a showstopper (of which How To Succeed really possesses only one; the effervescent ‘Brotherhood of Man’.)

Although constrained by its age, this production of ‘How To Succeed’ navigates through the script’s shortcomings with aplomb, and an irresistibly charming Radcliffe keeps the spark alive throughout the performance. How the show will fare without his star power remains to be seen (although with Glee’s Darren Criss and The Jonas Brothers‘ Nick Jonas lined up as replacements, I’d wager fairly well), but if you’re in search of a little animated, frolicsome entertainment, ‘How To Succeed‘ is certainly worth your time.